Smartphone-based cheque imaging is just the latest development in the long history of the cheque.
These fascinating images from the Barclays archive show how cheques have evolved from handwritten notes – via mergers, war, automation and even a giant halibut – to a quick-clearing method of payment that can be deposited anytime, anywhere. Defying predictions that it would become obsolete with the introduction of new payment methods, it seems the cheque has adapted rather than died.
The story begins in 13th century Venice, when the cheque was created as a device to allow international trade – without having to physically carry large amounts of silver or gold. In England, cheques evolved from letters written to goldsmith bankers, allowing customers to make payments to a third party without withdrawing money themselves.
As banking became more organised, bankers began to print cheques ready for customers to fill in details by hand. Gradually, more features and flourishes were added to the bill, either to convey information or increase security.
Images of cheques from the Barclays archive expose social and technological history, where new techniques have emerged even as cheque usage has declined. As long as this market exists – and 558 million cheques were written in the UK in 2015 – the technology and design will continue to develop, with smartphone-based imaging the latest phase of the evolution.